The Thirteenth Tale, a BBC adaptation of a best-seller by Diane Setterfield (which I haven't read) proved to be one of the stand-out dramas of the festive season. Screenplay by Christopher Hampton, lead roles played by Vanessa Redgrave and Olivia Coleman - what could possibly go wrong with this gothic tale? Not much. I really enjoyed it.
The opening was spookily (sorry, couldn't resist it0 reminiscent of the preamble to The Tractate Middoth on Christmas Day. A woman arrives at an impressive but rather forbidding country house by an enigmatic housekeeper, and is ushered into the presence of an elderly person who is close to death but has something important to say. But from that point, the two stories diverged. Redgrave plays a famous writer who wants Coleman to write her biography. Her story proves to be compelling, but deeply disturbing.
That story is (or seems to be - I'm trying to avoid spoilers here) about twins who grow up in a strange and almost surreal environment. Ronald Knox famously urged mystery writers to exercise restraint in the use of twins as a plot device, but The Thirteenth Tale is not really a detective story, although there is a puzzle to be solved. And more importantly, there is to my mind something deeply fascinating about twins. Perhaps it's because I'm an only child that I find the nature of the twin relationship especially mysterious, yet very intriguing. The experience of being a twin is so very different from my own experience. I've never written a story about twins, but one of these days, I'd like to have a go.
If I did, I'd be very happy if it was anything like as good as The Thirteenth Tale. The weird old houses, the slightly sinister family retainers, the entrancing gardens complete with topiary, and the frequent hints that something sexually illicit was going on, all these elements were mixed skilfully by Hampton to provide first rate entertainment. A gripping story, well told.
No Forgotten Book tomorrow, by the way. But there will be a post about a good and little known Golden Age novel in a week's time.